Many of us like to enjoy an occasional round of golf as a recreational sport. Although, in my experience, most golfers readily agree that golf is the most frustrating sport they have ever played it is viewed as a way to get some exercise, banter and relax with friends, and enjoy the beautiful scenery and fresh air. Furthermore, despite the frustrations inherent in the sport, at the end of the round players realize that they were so focused on the game that they have forgotten the problems and frustrations we all have to endure in our daily lives.
The history of golf is murky and controversial. The conventional wisdom is that the modern version of the game originated and developed in Scotland in the late Middle Ages. However, there is ample evidence that similar versions of the sport were being played concurrently elsewhere. For example, in Holland as early as the mid-13th century there is mention of a game whose object was to hit a ball into a small hole using what was called a “colf” or “kolf” club. In addition, around the end of the 13th century the Dutch were playing a game with a stick and a leather ball in which the object was to hit the ball into a hole 100 yards away. The winner would be the player who took the fewest strokes. Sound familiar? Some historians denote that similar games were also being played in the Netherlands and other European countries. These various iterations all predate the recorded history of the game in Scotland.
As I said above, golf historians and scholars generally acknowledge that the modern game of golf was invented in Scotland. Indeed, Wikipedia quotes a spokesman from The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews thusly: “Stick and ballgames have been around for many centuries, but golf as we know it today, played over 18 holes clearly originated in Scotland.” In addition, the very word “golf” is a derivative the Dutch word “colf” or “colve” meaning “stick, “club or “bat.”
The earliest mention of golf in Scotland was in 1457. King James banned the game of gowf on the basis that it was an unneeded distraction from archery, which was practiced for military purposes.
The oldest instructions for golf have been found in the diary of one Thomas Kincaid, a Scottish medical student. The earliest known surviving rules of golf date to 1744 in Scotland. By the 18th century Scottish soldiers, expats and immigrants were exporting the game throughout the world.
In the US the game was being played in the Albany, NY area as early as the mid-17th century. It quickly spread throughout the country. By the 1880s several golf clubs had sprung up. By 1910 there were nearly 300. The USGA was formed in 1894.
And, now, I would like to present some golf tidbits and trivia. Unless otherwise stated, the source for these is a book written by Rick Reilly, So Help Me Golf. Reilly is a much-renowned sports journalist and author. He has written several very entertaining books on golf
1. Golf courses have not always had 18 holes. According to Wikipedia the terrain at St. Andrews consisted of a narrow strip of land bordered by the sea. Therefore, when the course was laid out in the 15th century there was only room for eleven holes laid out end to end from the clubhouse to the far end of the property. Golfers would play the course twice. So the initial golf course consisted of 22 holes. Later, some of the short holes were combined leaving 18 holes, which has been the standard ever since.
2. According to Wikipedia, the standard golf ball was developed in the 1930s. Prior to then, there was some variance as to weight and size.
3. Wikipedia also states that the earliest golf clubs were made from wood. Various varieties of wood were used. Eventually wood was replaced by iron, then steel, then graphite, and titanium.
4. Phil Mickelson plays golf lefty, but he does everything else righty.
5. Irish star golfer Rory McIlroy once hit his father with a drive (presumably, not intentionally).
6. Jackie Gleason, an avid golfer, habitually carried 12 woods, all with mink headcovers.
7. Baltusrol Golf Club is named after a murdered person, Baltus Roll, who was attacked and beaten to death in 1831.
8. Augusta National prohibits Masters winners from taking their green jackets home permanently with one exception. That would be 1970 winner Billy Casper who was give permission to be buried in it.
9. In 1945 Sam Snead won the LA Open playing the entire 72 hole tournament with one ball even though the cover was falling off by the end. The reason? It was during WWII, and there was a rubber shortage.
10. Tiger Woods is allergic to grass.
11. Jack Nicklaus is color-blind.
12. Arnold Palmer signed the most autographs of any golfer. He used a special pen that wrote in disappearing ink for anyone who was rude.
13. During WWII some American soldiers who were imprisoned in a German camp fashioned a golf game using balls made of shoe leather and tree stumps for holes. Their “course” had real hazards – guards with machine guns.
14. In 2020 Sophia Popov, the 304th ranked women’s player won the British open. She had only qualified because a bunch of players cancelled out due to COVID.
15. What was the shortest golf course on record? Would you believe six feet? In 1965 Colonel George Hall was imprisoned in the infamous Hanoi Hilton. His cell measured six feet long. He fashioned a “club” from a stick. Every day he “play” a different course in his mind. That got him through four years of captivity. All right!
16. Why do we yell, “fore” to warn other golfers of a possible incoming ball? There is disagreement, but my research disclosed three possible reasons. (1) Many golf courses employ forecaddies who stand down-range. Their job is to locate errant balls so as to speed up the game. Fore is a shortening of forecaddie. (2) Artillerymen firing cannon would yell “beware before” to warn anyone downrange. (3) Fore is short for “before,” which is the Scottish word for a warning. I would lean toward the latter since the game originated in Scotland, but all of them are plausible. Take your pick.
A further word about the abovementioned frustrations. The pros on tv make the game appear much easier than it really is. These are average-size guys; many of them don’t even look like the athletes we see in other sports; they are not 6 foot 10; they don’t weigh 300 pounds; some of them do not even appear to be in “shape.” Yet, they hit the hell out of the ball time after time. So, we say “if he can do it why can’t I?” We quickly see that we can’t, and it frustrates us. We also bemoan the bad bounces and bad luck, which always seem to outnumber the good bounces and good luck. Moreover, we often flub a shot that we “know” we can execute because we have done so many times. During the round, we often swear we will quit the game entirely. Who needs all this frustration. Yet, we come back again next time, and the next time after that, and the time after that. No doubt, the sport engenders a classic love-hate relationship with the player.